Holiday traditions. Every family has them – and my family has a few of them! One of our long-standing traditions was to buy our tree as close to Christmas as possible (usually on Christmas Eve) and decorate it the night we brought it home. While this tradition may seem unusual, it came from a place of love.
I come from a multigenerational military family and there was always someone in my family who was deployed or stationed half way across that world during the holiday season. Because of this, my mother insisted on waiting until the very last minute to commence our holiday festivities in the hope that by some Christmas miracle, our distant loved ones would make it home in time for Christmas Day. (We even celebrated Christmas on December 26th one year so my brother could be included!)
Now that I, too, have joined the ranks, I’ve learned to really appreciate the lengths my mother goes to, to show her support to the deployed members of our family. It can be a difficult season for anyone missing a displaced loved one in the military, but the service members have a unique challenge to endure.
Service members may feel a litany of emotions: loneliness, guilt, and sadness, to name a few. While it’s almost inevitable that one or more of these emotions will arise, there are plenty of things you can do to help keep them at bay and make your service member feel loved and remembered during this holiday season.
Be Mindful of Your Service Member’s Emotional State
While constantly sending updates on your family’s holiday plans or sending over-the-top care packages are all sweet gestures meant to include your service member in the festivities, they can also serve as painful reminders of what he or she is missing out on. Before going all in, have a frank conversation with your service member about how to best approach the holiday season. Once everyone’s on the same page, the celebrations can begin in a way that accommodates everyone’s emotional vulnerability during what can be a difficult season to endure.
Create an Evergreen Tradition That Allows Your Service Member to Celebrate with You
As a service member, life is unpredictable. One year you’re spending the holidays huddled around the fireplace with your family at home and the next year you’re cherishing a brief Skype call in Kabul. Creating an evergreen tradition (something that can be done anywhere at any time), helps to create a sense of stability for service members that aren’t able to spend the holidays at home. An evergreen tradition could be sustained by simply sending a DVD of the holiday movie you always watch together on Christmas Day, or by creating a DIY hot chocolate kit if that’s your loved one’s favorite cozy winter beverage. These simple traditions may be small efforts, but they have the potential to make a big impact – helping your service member get in the holiday spirit no matter their location.
Make Time for Your Service Member
We’re so lucky that, in this day and age, service members have access to Skype, Facetime, and telephones while down range. As a Soldier, I can tell you that talking to your loved ones is the highlight of our day – but nothing is worse than a conversation that has been cut short because family is in a rush to get out the door. While these rapid exits typically aren’t intentional, they still sting.
Setting aside a portion of your day on Christmas (or whatever holiday your family celebrates) to talk to your deployed service member means more to them than you may know. Just hearing your voice can bring so much comfort to them while they’re away. This doesn’t mean you can’t plan to celebrate but try to avoid anything that requires leaving the house for extended periods of time so you’re home if your service member is able to reach out to you.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you make a genuine effort to let your service member know that you love them and are thinking of them – even a simple note reminding them that you love them and support them goes along way.
So, send a handwritten letter, assemble a care package full of evergreen traditional practices, and set aside some time to let your service member know how much they mean to you. It will mean more to them than you may ever know.
To learn more about how you can support deployed service members during the holiday season, click here.